Iowa Learning Farms’ publication ‘Watershed-based Community Assessments’ now available


AMES, IOWA —There are 446 impaired water bodies in Iowa listed on the 303(d) impaired waters list, named after section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act. A water body gets on this list when it failsto meet water quality standards, meaning these waters are unfit for their designated beneficial use. It is generally up to the local communities to organize watershed improvement projects and work to improve their water quality.

Local communities are helped in their projects through funding and technical assistance from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Environmental Protection Agency (Section 319) and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS). However, without citizen “buy-in” to local watershed improvement plans, it doesn’t matter how much funding or technical support they have, their water quality improvement project will probably not be successful.

A straightforward way to estimate the knowledge, needs and will of a community is to simply ask the residents of the watershed. To have a successful water quality improvement project, one needs to know residents’ opinions about water, their understanding of water quality, satisfaction with local water quality, and the methods that could best be used to increase their scientific knowledge of water quality. This will help build their capacity to participate in an improvement plan.

Assessing a watershed community’s strengths and weaknesses is an important first step in planning and implementing an effective watershed improvement project. By taking the time to learn about the local watershed community’s issues, project officials can discover new opportunities for increasing community involvement and individual commitment that will help ensure success of the watershed improvement project.

With funding from IDNR, Iowa Learning Farms developed “Watershed-based Community Assessments,” a toolkit to guide local communities with their projects.

In the toolkit there are step-by-step instructions on how to write and send a survey to assess residents’ attitudes and knowledge of their watershed and water quality. A sample survey is in the toolkit that can be adapted for each project. There are directions on how to process and analyze survey results. Also included are guides on how to conduct one-on-one interviews, facilitate listening sessions and how to analyze the outcomes from these meetings. 

Another section includes how to create a “social map” of the watershed community. A social map is a visual, geographic representation of important places within a community. This map will help coordinators find what places and spaces that watershed citizens deem valuable and where the best potential places are to reach residents.

The final sections of this toolkit offer tips to holding successful watershed improvement outreach and education events. These tips are composite examples based on successful watershed projects in Iowa and experiences of the Iowa Learning Farms.

The toolkit is available on the Iowa Learning Farms website (in PDF format) for downloading. The sample water quality survey is on the website in Word format so that it can be adapted. Go to the “Resources” tab on the ILF website: to find the Watershed-based Community Assessment. A hard copy is on file in each county’s Soil and Water Conservation District office as well.

Effective watershed-based community assessments allow watershed groups to develop goals, outreach and education regarding water quality challenges based on the values of the people living in the watershed. Finding out how and what local watershed residents think about their local watershed can go a long way to improve the environmental literacy of Iowans and improve water quality.

Iowa Learning Farms is building a Culture of Conservation, encouraging adoption of residue management and conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best in-field management practices that increase water and soil quality while remaining profitable. Iowa Learning Farms is a partnership between the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service and Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA section 319); in cooperation with Conserva­tion Districts of Iowa, the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Water Center.


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